It’s as reliable as clockwork. A female character does something cool onscreen – TV or film, it doesn’t matter – and suddenly the keyboard warriors crawl out from under their rocks to complain about it. We’ve heard it about Star Wars’s Rey, and Captain Marvel, and today it’s the turn of Game Of Thrones' Arya Stark. SPOILERS FOLLOW for Season 8, episode 3, so for the love of the Lord of Light don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it.
Seriously. Go watch it and come back.
OK, now if those people have gone, the thing that set everyone off was Arya’s confrontation – and ruthless dispatch of – the Night King. This biggest of big bads, the unstoppable eldritch force built up over seven seasons to pose an existential threat to the whole of Westeros, never mind who is on the Iron Throne, fell at the hand of a teenage girl just when he seemed on the point of total victory. It was shocking. It was thrilling. And it was, 'some feminist bullshit' according to people on reddit.
The problem that these guys tend to invest not only in the heroes of these shows – the Jon Snows and Jaimes and clever Tyrions – but also in the bad guys. Think about how many men go around worshipping Darth Vader, or claim casually that “Thanos has a point”, or bang on about the Joker. These ferocious forces of chaos, or of death, or of fascist control, have a certain appeal to a certain kind of guy. They don’t feel powerful in their own lives, maybe, and the image of the unquestioned leader ordering everyone else about is very much wish fulfilment for them. Never mind that these guys are expressly, definitely baddies: these keyboard warriors sort of worship them. So to see a teenage girl take him down must feel like a direct attack on their already fragile masculinity.
What Arya lacks in size and strength, however, she makes up for in determination. She was born brave, even reckless, and determined to strike out beyond her socially-acceptable limits. Her ordeals since she went to King’s Landing way back in season one have only added toughness, ruthlessness and the speed and skills that come with weapons training. Why wouldn’t she be able to take down the Night King? Anyone could, with some dragonglass and the element of surprise.
Read more: all the dearly departed fit men who have died on Game Of Thrones
One of the shows greatest losses in both character and eye candy, Robb Stark – played by The Bodyguard's Richard Madden - was killed by Roose Bolton in season three. We're still mourning.
Hilariously, some of the complaints have gone further and called Arya a “Mary Sue”, a term for a character that the writers love so much that they give all sorts of gifts and no flaws. You know, like Luke Skywalker or Captain America or Sam Tarly, only men don’t generally get hit with the same accusation because they are allowed to be powerful without anyone complaining. The same term gets bandied around about Rey, for example, with these purported fans complaining that she became too powerful, too fast. But it’s particularly unfair in Arya’s case because she has witnessed endless death and violence, and trained for literally years to become an assassin. She saw her father beheaded in front of her, was separated from her entire family and took refuge in a strange land before becoming this deadly and sometimes rather creepy force. Can her own family trust her now? If there were a happy ending to this show, is there even a scenario where Arya finds peace? And what part of that bloody, violent background sounds like something a Mary Sue would survive?
Arya may have killed the Night King quickly, but it wasn’t easy even for a trained assassin, even one who took him unawares and posed no obvious threat. Yet none of the other characters had the skills, or that surprise factor, to make that happen, no matter how big and strong and manly they are. Like everyone else, the Night King failed to take Arya seriously, and she capitalised on that underestimation by doing what no one else could. There’s a lesson there for these men, if they’re willing to hear it. Women succeeding does not mean that feminism has given them an unfair advantage. It just means that they’ve managed to get past the men in their way